Grand Moff Tarkin's 'Rogue One’ Politics Explained In Footage Cut From Original ‘Star Wars’

  • Science Fiction
Grand Moff Tarkin as portrayed by Peter Cushing.
Grand Moff Tarkin as portrayed by Peter Cushing. Lucasfilm

Footage uncovered by John Knoll, Chief Creative Officer and Senior Visual Effects Supervisor for Industrial Light & Magic at Lucasfilm (he also helped invent Photoshop — Knoll is a super interesting guy), helps smooth out one of my canonical pet peeves from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It was Knoll who concocted and pitched to Kathleen Kennedy the concept behind Rogue One shortly after Disney bought Lucasfilm. He shared his deep dives into the Lucasfilm archives at Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, including rarely seen archival footage from filming the original Star Wars. One clip in particular jumped out at me, clarifying Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin’s political ambitiousness.

Setting aside the ghoulish CGI recreation of Peter Cushing (which looked real enough, but failed to capture Cushing’s strengths as an actor), there’s something that seemed off in Grand Moff Tarkin’s motivations. His main move in Rogue One is to steal credit from Orson Krennic, the Death Star’s true creator, telling him, “I will be taking control over the weapon I first spoke of years ago.” Is Tarkin truly so peevish as to try out the “I had the idea first” routine?

The Tarkin we see in the original Star Wars is a no-nonsense Imperial power, ruthlessly carrying out the Emperor’s plan to maintain control over the galaxy. “Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station,” Tarkin told his assembled officers, who lacked Tarkin’s faith that the Empire could hold together without the Galactic Senate bureaucracy. But rather than a revolutionary true-believer, eager to sweep away the old order and create a new one, the Tarkin we meet in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a conniving careerist. It feels like small potatoes for a man used to bossing around Vader and blowing up planets, essentially on a whim.

But Knoll offered up some non-canonical data points, in the form of raw footage cut from Star Wars (yeah, it’s pedantry, but I’ll see you in hell before calling it A New Hope). In addition to some awesome cockpit footage of Red Squadron and Gold Squadron (some of which was rotoscoped, digitally cleaned and inserted into Rogue One), Knoll screened to the Celebration audience several Darth Vader scenes before James Earl Jones’ voice was added. It was definitely the right choice, Vader in the original footage sounds like Jemaine Clement (though George Lucas not telling David Prowse his voice was getting replaced was a dick move). But the most fascinating scene was a longer cut of the Death Star conference room scene, wherein Grand Moff Tarkin announces the dissolution of the Galactic Senate and Darth Vader chokes out Admiral Conan Antonio Motti.

“I tell you he’s gone too far. This Sith Lord sent by the Emperor will be our undoing,” General Cassio Tagge says before Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader show up to the meeting. And then, like any catty team of coworkers, Tagge whines about the boss:

“I think the construction of this station has more to do with Governor Tarkin’s bid for recognition than any prudent military strategy. The rebellion will continue to gain support in the Imperial Senate as long as…”

You should recognize that second sentence. That made it into the movie. But the first sentence was cut out (to be clear, this isn’t new to the historic record, the line appears in the shooting script). And it’s a perfect explanation for how Tarkin acts in Rogue One. It’s a perspective on Tarkin we don’t see in the actual movie.

Not that it really fixes anything. From a storytelling perspective the problem remains: Tarkin and Krennic fill the same plot needs and their rivalry never rises to the level of a subplot. Instead, it just makes them seem like fussbudgets while more important stuff is happening everywhere else. But to learn that it originates, in part, from Knoll’s nerdery makes it a more sympathetic decision. Even preferring the more driven, monstrous Tarkin, it’s fun to know the bureaucrat is out there, somewhere, in the spaces between the real Star Wars galaxy and the unreal footage of which it was made.

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